Iconic actor Leonard Nimoy, 83, was born and raised in Boston’s West End and now lives in Los Angeles. He served in the Army before briefly studying acting at Boston College in the 1950s. His earliest acting roles were on TV shows like Dragnet and Perry Mason, and he achieved staggering fame playing Spock in the Star Trek TV and film series. (His two autobiographies are titled I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock.) He went on to star in Mission: Impossible and host the popular series In Search of…, and his extensive voice-over credits include documentary films, TV commercials, cartoons and a memorable introduction for the Museum of Science’s Mugar Omni Theater. He is also an accomplished fine art photographer whose latest show, Secret Selves, is on view through May 9 in the Sherman Gallery at Boston University. And on May 23 and 24, he will appear with the Boston Pops in a space-themed program at Symphony Hall.
Leonard Nimoy: Playing stickball in the middle of the street. I really am, deeply, at heart, still a Bostonian, and I come back as often as I can.
Is photography a natural progression from acting and directing?
I think there’s a bit of synchronicity, a mutual exchange of ideas, or a mutual sensibility.
Have you embraced digital photography and all the advances that have been made?
I have. It took me a while to make the switch, but two things happened. One was that the digital technology improved so greatly, and the other was that I wanted to do a project that needed color. Up to that point, I had processed my own work in my own darkroom, which I couldn’t do with this particular project, so I shot it digitally, and I’m very happy that I did.
There’s a certain kind of truth to that, and I’m sure people who were making a living shooting various events are no longer getting calls, because everyone has a camera. But the kind of photography that captured my imagination was thematic photography, and that’s entirely different. I’d already been carrying cameras with me and taking pictures before I studied photography seriously in the 1970s at UCLA, and then I learned the difference between just shooting pictures and exploring a theme.
Am I supposed to know the answer to that question? [Laughs]
Interesting. That expression came up a few weeks ago, and I had no idea what the person was talking about. Listen, I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast today. I did that recording 20 years ago.
[Laughs] That’s very flattering. Those guys are great. They speak and perform intelligently, and they have great voices that demand attention.
Well, it’s a lot easier. You don’t have to care what you look like, or makeup, costume, hair…
No. My voice is a gift. My speech is something else. When I left Boston, I had a very identifiable accent, and I went to school in Pasadena at what was then the Pasadena Playhouse School to lose it. They had an excellent speech program.
DragnetPerry MasonThe Twilight Zone
No. I wasn’t thinking in those cosmic terms. I was just happy to have another job. I was hungry for work.
In Search of…
I loved the stuff that had to do with the potential for non-verbal communication. We did several on that subject, and I was always intrigued by those. Mental telepathy, or any kind of ability to communicate non-verbally, always interested me.
Show that you’re most proud of?
Well, interesting question, in that some of the work I’m most proud of has had minimal exposure. I produced and starred in a TV movie for Turner network called Never Forget. It was the true story of a man who survived Auschwitz, who was challenged by some Holocaust deniers to prove that Jews were gassed by the Nazis. In a rather interesting turn of events, this man beat these people in court, resulting in the Holocaust going into American jurisprudence as a “legal fact.” It aired, but it didn’t get a lot of attention. I was very proud of it, though.
Is that what you’re doing? [Laughs] No. I’m an easygoing guy. I don’t care. I don’t have to sell anything these days.
Well, it was both funny and sad. I met a young lady once who said her friend had lost his vision in one eye and was losing it in the other, and he was in the hospital. She asked if I could please come see if I could help. And I told her, “I’m terribly sorry, but I’m an actor. I do not have that kind of power.” And she said, “How do you know if you won’t even try?”
I’m tempted to say something silly like “He doesn’t actually have pointed ears.” Believe it or not, when I first went on the air as Spock in 1966, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure, and there were people who actually thought they’d found an actor with pointed ears to play the role.
[Laughs] George is terrific. A great character and a good friend, and I love his irreverent attitude about everything. He’s very funny and very, very bright. I’m on Twitter, so I do see his stuff from time to time. On the other hand, Zachary Quinto is a very intelligent, thoughtful, accomplished actor whom I admire a lot, and we’re good friends. We see each other whenever we can. We saw him in his brilliant performance of The Glass Menagerie on Broadway, and we even saw it before that at the A.R.T. in Cambridge.
Oh, God. He can speak for himself.
[Laughs] My stepson, Aaron Bay-Schuck, is an executive at Atlantic Records, and that came about because of him. He brought Bruno Mars to Atlantic. I thought the video was very clever and well done.
How’s your Yiddish these days?
Pretty good. I had a fairly lengthy conversation with the woman who runs the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass. They’ve put pieces of it out on YouTube, and just two days ago, I was with my brother, who’s 87 years old, and he complimented me on my Yiddish. I asked how he knew, and he said, “I saw it on YouTube.”
So give me a little taste. OK.
[Proceeds to recite Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Yiddish.]
Oh, I am. I am. Definitely.
I get paid a lot of money for that! [Laughs] OK. Here goes: This is Leonard Nimoy. Jonathan can’t come to the phone right now. Live long and prosper.